My father travelled quite a bit for both business and pleasure. Once on a trip to Denmark he was entertained at a business associate’s home. The hostess asked Dad to sign the tablecloth which was covered in signatures of previous guests and then embroidered; this created a very colorful and memorable piece. Dad brought several beautiful linen tablecloths home for his daughters. (It is interesting. Dad had five girls and five boys. I guess he figured that the boys were never going to embroider anything!) When he signed my tablecloth, Dad wrote “Leo J. McLaughlin” with “Dad” written below his signature in parenthesis. I thought it was quite amusing … as if I would ever forget who he was! That was not likely.
My father taught me many lessons. Dad was a successful business executive that worked his way up from the mailroom to the boardroom. (No, I am not making this up!) He would often regale us with stories of events, negotiations, and business practices that he felt were worth mentioning. He enjoyed the role of sharp observer and great storyteller. Dad’s “teachings” were not only of a professional nature. He had a way of saying things that would just penetrate even the thickest of heads.
Dad once made a comment to me about a boyfriend I brought home one summer after my second year of college. (I was at the age where young women are at the peak of intelligence.) This was my one and only stint with a man I thought I could “rescue.” Dad was a keen observer of people and didn’t like the guy. Rather than tell me in a way that would make me more dedicated to my rescue mission, Dad simply said, “Easy to get is hard to get rid of.” I have never forgotten that bit of advice. And just for the record, he could not have been more accurate. I did manage to get rid of this man, but it took many months.
What does my little memoir have to do with business? Well, I think that “easy to get is hard to get rid of” makes excellent business advice. In evaluating hiring practices or folks already hired, this quote seems eerily accurate. When engaging with operations where there is high turnover, I have observed that it is often the best people that move on. Those with options and talents leave organizations of their own free will. Those of less quality are often content to stay behind, collect the check, and watch the business world glide by.
The effort you expend to retain your best folks is of course time well spent. But just this once, consider the value of getting rid of those that are NOT RIGHT for the job. I refer to this as “good turnover.” If the talent you have hired to interact with the customer is consistently inexperienced or simply wrong for the job, even in these tough times, there could be far reaching problems and damage to the Customer Experience.
I would like to propose two things: (1) apply the “easy to get is hard to get rid of” principle to your hiring practices and (2) purge those existing resources that do not bring the right talent, attitude, commitment, or desire to the party. (One of Dad’s favorite business questions was, “What will they bring to the party?”)
Are your hiring requirements defined in such a way as to avoid being “stuck” with the wrong resources?
This is a question for all involved parties to think about. For example, Human Resources may be trying to fill the class that starts next week. The fact that the candidate is breathing, can start Monday, and has never been arrested may make them a “qualified” candidate. In an effort to hire a large number of staff for a new Contact Center, have you noticed that the standards “lower” the closer it gets to Go Live?
What to do? First, create very clear and specific competencies and qualifications for required resources. Then ADHERE to those guidelines. Develop hiring practices that yield resources that are suited to fulfilling your company’s specific business objectives. Test for the skills required in the Contact Center. Optimism, attitude, flexibility, and teamwork may have greater value than “previous Customer Service experience.” A candidate’s experience tells you nothing of the “experience” enjoyed by those they serve. USAA Insurance has had a policy of seeking Contact Center staff WITHOUT previous Contact Center or Customer Service experience. This safeguards USAA from having to undo philosophies or habits contrary to its own high standards.
When clear competencies, requirements, and controls are in place, you avoid hiring the wrong people. You also safeguard that your department will not be the “dumping ground” for internal resources that bring no added value to your team. They may, in fact, be significant detractors.
Treating The Existing Condition
Does your organization practice the fine art of moving redundant resources from one business unit to another simply to avoid laying them off or firing them?
This is a critical question that requires an honest answer, especially if your operation is stuck with a “wrong hire” or anyone fitting the definition of “easy to get is hard to get rid of.” If the answer is yes, YOU ARE NOT ALONE. This is not a fault or failure condition unless it remains un-rectified. We already discussed preventative measures; now we must consider treatment for the existing condition.
It is important to take a stance on the performance and behaviors that support your business requirements, for both remote and premise-based operations. There are so many variations of the wrong resources finding their way (“easy to get”) into an operation that it is mind boggling … somebody’s sister, sister-in-law, cousin, friend, etc. And what about the person that has been with the company for so long that no one wants to admit that they were an asset that has now morphed into a liability?
Acknowledging bad decisions is difficult because it means having to do something about them! Many organizations already possess the tools to eliminate non-performing and damaging resources. These exist in the many types of performance assessments (at least those that have teeth). I never cease to be amazed at what some staff manage to “get away with” because performance standards and codes of conduct are not sufficiently utilized by leadership.
Take a hard look at the performance criteria and behaviors within your ranks. Who are the high, middle, and low performers? Categorize performance against worthy criteria and establish development plans for those falling behind. AND STICK TO THEM! No individual contributors should remain in a position year after year of poor performance. I have seen managers defend staff with horrifying attendance records because “when they are here they are wonderful with customers.” I am not sure that adds up for me.
There is also the practice of dropping redundant resources into certain business units - very often the Contact Center - to finish out their careers. This situation is not unique to frontline staff; it is also often seen in management. (I don’t know where to put this manager. Send them to the Contact Center. They are always looking for people.) Don’t allow your reputation to be that of someone who willingly accepts “leftovers” from other business units. Accept them only when they are truly qualified and meet your criteria.
“How can I miss you, when you won’t go away?” – Dan Hicks and His Hot Licks
The time has come to hold staff to high requirements consistently and with respect. Performance standards are critical within a challenging economy and low unemployment rates. Consumers demand knowledgeable, professional, and friendly responses to inquiries.
High standards of performance support the strategic direction, the brand, the Customer Experience, and the financial health of an organization. As a leader, you must hold standards dear, evaluate your tolerance for performance that does not support objectives, and eliminate poor performers.
I believe that in most cases you will discover that the poor performers were “easy to get” and now reside in the “hard to get rid of” category. It is up to you to take corrective action with these folks. Though this may cause initial pain, the impact will be positive at several levels. Your strong resources will have more reason to stay since they will no longer “carry dead weight.” Customers will receive better and more consistent service by a dedicated and talented team of professionals.
One last thing … When I was 24 and emerging from the “know it all age,” I was in a car crash and landed in the hospital. I received a card from Dad with this message, “Don’t ever lose your sense of humor.” But that’s another ode to Leo J. Thanks Dad!